Cinema and Revolution

Berlin Film Festival correspondent J.P. Picaper is awestruck by the fact that “in The Gay Science (an ORTF-Radio Stuttgart production, banned in France) Godard has pushed his admirable self-critique to the point of projecting sequences shot in the dark or even of leaving the spectator for an almost unbearable length of time facing a blank screen” (Le Monde, 8 July 1969). Without seeking more precisely what constitutes “an almost unbearable length of time” for this critic, we can see that Godard, following the latest fashions as always, is adopting a destructive style just as belatedly plagiarized and pointless as all the rest of his work, this negation having been expressed in the cinema(1) before he had ever begun the long series of pretentious pseudoinnovations that aroused such enthusiasm among student audiences during the previous period. The same journalist reports that Godard, through one of the characters in his short film L’Amour, confesses that “revolution cannot be put into images” because “the cinema is the art of lying.” The cinema has no more been an “art of lying” than has any of the rest of art, which was dead in its totality long before Godard, who has not even been a modern artist, that is, who has not even been capable of the slightest personal originality. This Maoist liar is thus winding up his bluff by trying to arouse admiration for his brilliant discovery of a noncinema cinema, while denouncing a sort of inevitable falsehood in which he has participated, but no more so than have many others. Godard was in fact immediately outmoded by the May 1968 revolt, which caused him to be recognized as a spectacular manufacturer of a superficial, pseudocritical, cooptive art rummaged out of the trashcans of the past (see The Role of Godard in Internationale Situationniste #10). At that point Godard’s career as a filmmaker was essentially over, and he was personally insulted and ridiculed on several occasions by revolutionaries who happened to cross his path.

The cinema as a means of revolutionary communication is not inherently mendacious just because Godard or Jacopetti(2) has touched it, any more than all political analysis is doomed to duplicity just because Stalinists have written. Several new filmmakers in various countries are currently attempting to utilize films as means of revolutionary critique, and some of them will partially succeed in this. However, the limitations both in their aesthetic conceptions and even in their grasp of the nature of the present revolution will in our opinion prevent them for some time still from going as far as is necessary. We believe that at the moment only the situationists’ positions and methods, as formulated by René Viénet in our previous issue [The Situationists and the New Forms of Action Against Art and Politics], are adequate for a directly revolutionary use of cinema — though political and economic conditions still present obvious obstacles to the creation of such films.

It is known that Eisenstein wanted to make a film of Capital. Considering his formal conceptions and political submissiveness, it can be doubted if his film would have been faithful to Marx’s text. But for our part, we are confident that we can do better. For example, as soon as it becomes possible Guy Debord will himself make a cinematic adaptation of The Society of the Spectacle that will certainly not fall short of his book.




1. Allusion to the lettrist films of the early 1950s, which frequently contained such blank-screen passages, culminating in Debord’s first film, Howls for Sade (1952), which contains no images whatsoever.

2. Gualtiero Jacopetti: director of Mondo Cane and other sensationalistic “shockumentaries.”

“Le cinéma et la révolution” originally appeared in Internationale Situationniste #12 (Paris, September 1969). This translation by Ken Knabb is from the Situationist International Anthology (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2006). No copyright.

[Guy Debords Films]
[Other Situationist Texts]